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Ten "Commandments" for Writing
Sometimes, the hardest thing to write is a letter.
Whether it’s a cover letter to go with your resume, a letter of apology,
a letter of condolence to a friend, or a complaint to a local merchant,
letters can be a challenge. You’ve got to say what you need to say in a
very small space.
Whatever the writing opportunity is, it’s a challenge
you can easily meet. The ten “commandments” that follow will serve to
help you produce effective and powerful letters, as well as other
Writing a letter sometimes seems an annoying task or a
“necessary evil.” But it doesn’t have to be so, nor should it be. When
you sit down to write, keep in mind Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you
do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (NIV)
Writing a letter, a memo, or anything else should be a
special joy as a Pastor because it’s another opportunity to minister. It
is in this spirit that the following guidelines are offered.
1. Be Smart – “If any of you lacks wisdom, he
should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and
it will be given to him.” (James 1:5, KJV)
Before picking up your pen or touching a keyboard, stop
and think about what you want to say in your letter. Think it through
carefully. The more sensitive the situation, the more care you need to
take. The best help you can get is from God. Don’t just think – pray
before you write.
2. Be On Target – “Among all these soldiers there
were seven hundred chosen men who were left-handed, each of whom could
sling a stone at a hair and not miss.” (Judges 20:16. KJV)
Be sure you’re writing to the right audience or person.
Keep your reader in mind as you write. Don’t send a letter to teens that
was originally aimed at adults, and vice versa. Also, don’t send a
letter to an assistant that needs to go to an administrator or to a
group when it should go to an individual. If you’re reusing old material
or boilerplate, customize carefully.
3. Be Accurate – “But whoever lives by the truth
comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has
done has been done through God.” (John 3:21, KJV)
A letter writer’s effectiveness depends upon
credibility. Be absolutely sure you’ve got all of the facts straight.
Every situation has a well-greased grapevine, and information is easily
distorted, especially if it was wrong to begin with. Check your facts.
Make sure you have the right names, dates, times, and places. When
you’re sure you’re right, check again.
4. Be Coherent (logical) – “Peter began and
explained everything to them precisely as it had happened.” (Acts 11:4,
KJV), “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” (1
Corinthians 14:40, KJV).
Incoherence or poor logic is a common problem in
writing, so I’ve given two Scriptures to emphasize its importance. The
easiest method of organization is to tell your story chronologically –
in the order events occurred or will occur. If you’ve got several items
or points to cover, outline first. If you can’t rank them
chronologically, rank them in order of importance. Number each item in
your letter if necessary. Be sure to make smooth transitions from one
thought to another.
5. Be Clear – “. . . do not keep on babbling like
pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”
(Matthew 6:7, KJV).
Keep it simple. Avoid using a long word where a short
one will do. Just as God ignores heathen prayers loaded with “fancy
language,” so will your reader! Other than observing the basic rules of
grammar, try to write the way your reader talks.
6. Be Kind – “Finally, all of you, live in
harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be
compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8, KJV).
Never write a letter when you’re angry. If you do, don’t
mail it. Set it aside so you and your letter can cool off. Always be as
considerate of your reader as you want them to be toward you. Try to see
the situation from their point of view. We all make mistakes. Sometimes
anger is a reasonable reaction to a situation. But always be careful how
you let your anger be expressed. Conversely, avoid being saccharine or
soft when being forceful salt and light is called for.
7. Be Yourself – “Two men went up to the temple
to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee
stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like
other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax
collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the
tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven,
but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell
you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before
God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles
himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14, KJV).
The moral of this parable is, don’t put on airs, whether
you’re dealing with God or people. Be yourself. Be honest. Be
straightforward. Don’t use words or a style that you wouldn’t use in a
conversation with your best friend.
8. Be Brief (concise) – “Brothers, I urge you to
bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short
letter.” (Hebrews 13:22, KJV).
Have a point. Get to the point. Stick to the point. And
then sign off. How many two-or four-page letters do you read all the way
through? Don’t write letters longer than they need to be.
9. Be Willing To Revise – “But the pot he was
shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it
into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” (Jeremiah 18:4, KJV).
Seldom is any good writing achieved in the first draft.
As all good writing, letters deserve special care, not only out of
consideration for your reader, but also for yourself. Letters convey in
print an image – your image. The more personal or sensitive or special
the situation, the more carefully they must be thought out. Always have
someone else proofread for typos, misspellings, and other errors. A
little mistake can cost you a lot of respect.
10. Be Brave – “David also said to Solomon his
son, ‘Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or
discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you
or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the
LORD is finished.’” (1 Chronicles 28:20, KJV).
While many are intimidated by having to write anything
at all, it need not be a fearful task. With forethought and planning,
anyone can write an effective and powerful letter (or anything else).
Have an important letter to write? Keep these guidelines in mind, be
brave – and do it!